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Kelly Commentary on Books of the Bible Kelly Commentary
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Kelly, William. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 17". Kelly Commentary on Books of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ wkc/ deuteronomy-17.html. 1860-1890.
Kelly, William. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 17". Kelly Commentary on Books of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
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It is clear that a new division of the statutes and judgments of this book begins with the later verses just read from Deuteronomy 16:1-22. What belonged to the religious life of Israel was closed with the three feasts which fill the previous part of the chapter.
Now we touch on the instruments and means which Jehovah established for the purpose of carrying out the life of the people in judicial matters. Judges and officers were to abound. They were to be made in all their gates, and with watchful care there is a guard against respect of persons and anything calculated to turn aside the sentence of righteousness. The land which Jehovah their God gave must have justice; loving-kindness, and mercy between man and man, and all pleasant affections among the people must not interfere in such questions. Along with all this we suddenly find what the spirit of man cannot understand the introduction of a fresh allusion to religious matters. "Thou shalt not plant a grove of any trees near unto the altar of Jehovah thy God, which thou shalt make thee. Neither shalt thou set thee up any image; which Jehovah thy God hateth. Thou shalt not sacrifice unto Jehovah thy God any bullock, or sheep, wherein is blemish, or any evil-favouredness: for that is an abomination unto Jehovah thy God."
With this beginning ofDeuteronomy 17:1-20; Deuteronomy 17:1-20 there goes a strong warning as to any man or woman that had wrought wickedness in the sight of Jehovah in transgressing His covenant, going and serving other gods, more particularly worshipping the host of heaven. It appears to me that, so far from presenting the smallest real difficulty, so far from being an interruption of the great subject of the judicial life of Israel, we have to face here the important truth that what touches God, what falsifies Him as such, has the closest bearing on the daily life of His people, both in their households and also in matters of public judgment. If we are wrong in what we allow as to God Himself, if there is a tampering with that which sullies His glory, a dishonour allowed (for instance) as to His nature in admitting these false gods, or setting up creatures in the place of God Himself, all the lower part of the life will feel at once the destructive and corrupting consequences of it.
Hence the difficulty which divines have found, in what they supposed the going back to matters of religion, is in point of fact a mere mistake of their own from divorcing that which God has joined together. We have had fully the direct instruction as to what concerned His own glory, but now even when He is touching on that which bears on man's life, He interweaves religious elements not at all as a repetition of the past, but as connecting it with the present subject. Further, we find that the subject is pursued to show the place of testimony. By the mouth of two witnesses or three it was ordained that he who was worthy of death should die. This was of great value in practice, and is made use of largely in the New Testament a principle which no man can ever neglect without loss.
At first sight it may seem singular that the Spirit of God should attach so much importance to the requirement of two or three witnesses; but let us remember that we are here learning the ways of God actively dealing with a people on earth, after He had brought them into relationship with Himself. Undoubtedly, if God took no active concern in man or his ways, there might be difficulties. Israel alone, of all the nations on the face of the earth, stood on such a ground as this; and on them God laid the necessity of demanding such testimony. But He is always wise, and besides He would teach His people to trust that He will always give whatever is necessary according to His' own order.
So the New Testament uses the principle with us, who have to do with Him and who deals with us in a far more intimate way than He ever did with Israel. We have to do with One that has deigned to make us His dwelling-place by the Spirit. Hence where He has laid down His word with clearness, as for instance in such a matter as this, we may unqualifiedly count on Him. People may bring all kinds of objections, and say that we cannot always expect such an amount of testimony as this, that we must look at the circumstances, and, if it be impossible to produce evidence sufficient, we must act on what seems most probable. But this is neither more nor less than to abandon divine ground for what is human; and I am persuaded that a deeper injury by a long way would be done to the people of God by a single departure from His word and mind and way in such a matter as this, than by failure to convict in ten cases where there might be evil underneath. Our business is never to leave the plain word of God, but to cleave to it, and, whatever the pressure of circumstances, to wait on God. He is able to produce witnesses when we least see how or whence they come.
Thus we are kept in peace while trusting in His word; and what is the spirit of him who in such matters could bear to be hasty, or wish to condemn another before God has brought out the evidence? Thus the heart abides confiding and calm, knowing that He who beholds and knows all is able to bring forward whatever is necessary at the right moment. It may be His way to try the faith of His people and to humble by keeping them in ignorance for a time. Where there existed greater spiritual power, there might be a more ready use of the means that God puts at our disposal; but whatever His ground for withholding anything they needed, our plain call is to cherish perfect confidence that He cares for us not only in what He gives, but in what He with-holds. We therefore can stand to His word "In the mouth of two or three witnesses every word shall be established;" and where this is not vouchsafed, where the testimony fails, our duty is to wait on the Lord.
This brings us to another point. If there arose matters too hard for them, as it is said, they were to get up to the place which Jehovah their God should choose. "And thou shalt come unto the priests the Levites, and unto the judge that shall be in those days, and enquire; and they shall show thee the sentence of judgment: and thou shalt do according to the sentence, which they of that place which Jehovah shall choose shall show thee; and thou shalt observe to do according to all that they inform thee." Here again the principle is good and valid for the present time; for we must remember particularly in this book of Deuteronomy that priests are used in a sensibly different way from what is found elsewhere, as was pointed out in the last lecture. It is not a question here so much of their service in standing between the people and God, as of their helping the people in what they owed to Him. In Leviticus it is the former, because there it is a question of drawing near to God, and the people could not go into the sanctuary, but the priests for them. In Deuteronomy, which supposes the people about to enter on the land, we have more the family order of the nation, with Jehovah their God; and the priests the Levites help this on, although of course in the sanctuary the priests would still retain their place. The two books are in no way inconsistent with each other. There is a difference made, which consists in this, that the priests are regarded more as a part of the people, not so much as an intervening class between God and them.
Accordingly here we find that in these matters of judgment which belong to the practical difficulties of daily life, where questions were too hard for ordinary men, appeal must be made to them, not so much in their sacrificial capacity, but as those who ought to have greater practical acquaintance with the word of God, and thereby their senses more exercised to discern good and evil. It is granted at once that nothing can be more ruinous in Christendom than the assertion of an earthly priesthood, based on the notion of some having an access to God more than others in point of title; it is in effect to deny the gospel.
At the same time all must feel the value of a spiritual man's judgment where we fail. There is no one perhaps, unless of a singularly proud and independent spirit, who has not found the want of it; not a few have practically acted upon it, and proved its value when enjoyed. So the apostle James lets us know the value of a righteous man's prayers. Surely this does not mean every believer. Although every Christian is justified by faith, and may be expected to display a just and good man's ways practically; still it cannot be denied that there are wide differences of measure among real believers, and that we all have the consciousness that there are those among the people of God, to whom we could not happily open our difficulties, and some to whom one could most freely; some who have such a spiritual tone and ripe acquaintance with His mind, who therefore help their brethren, not in the least by assuming an authority over the consciences of others, not by claiming dominion over their faith (not even an apostle would do this), but who nevertheless help decidedly by spiritual capacity to give a judgment formed by habitual walking in fellowship with Him, so as to meet others in practical difficulties and trials here below. This seems to be the principle at any rate of what we have here.
But this leads to another step. Jehovah would raise up judges in an extraordinary way from time to time: a fact familiar to all in the Old Testament history. Further, there is the supposition even of a king being called for in due time. But in a most striking manner God guards against the very snares into which the king, though he were the wise son of David himself, fell away, and so brought shame on God and misery on His people. Alas! the king when raised up among them, though not a stranger but their brother (as it is said) did multiply wives to himself, as we all know, and his heart was turned away. Multiplying to himself silver and gold beyond all measure, the law of Jehovah had not its place in his soul. The consequence was that the closing days even of that wisest and richest King of Israel notoriously became fruitful in sorrow and vanity; which burst out publicly as soon as he was taken away.
In Deuteronomy 18:1-22 we have the priests the Levites introduced in another way. It is said that they were to have no part nor inheritance with Israel; but they were to "eat the offerings of Jehovah made by fire and his inheritance. Therefore shall they have no inheritance among their brethren. Jehovah is their inheritance, as he hath said unto them." God thus marks afresh their special place of having Himself for their portion, so that what went to Him fell to them. This gave a deep sense of identification with Jehovah; as also it will be found that, all through the book of Deuteronomy, this is sustained and applied beyond all the other books of Moses. We may see before we have done what was the ground of it. For the present I only call witnesses to the fact. Hence it was, said, "And this shall be the priest's due," not only certain parts of the offerings, but also "the first-fruit of thy corn, of thy wine, and of thine oil, and the first of the fleece of thy sheep shalt thou give him. For Jehovah thy God hath chosen him out of all thy tribes to stand to minister in the name of Jehovah, him and his sons for ever." Then comes the Levite, his service, and his portion.* "And if a Levite come from any of thy gates out of all Israel, where he sojourned, and come with all the desire of his mind unto the place which Jehovah shall choose; then he shall minister in the name of Jehovah his God, as all his brethren the Levites do, which stand there before Jehovah. They shall have like portions to eat, beside that which cometh of the sale of his patrimony."
*Verses 1 and 2 bring forward "the priests the Levites, the tribe of Levi," giving emphasis to the priests, but joining all the tribe to which they belonged with them. Then in verses 3-5 the priest and his sons are specified, as in verses 6-8 the Levite. There is no ground for the rationalist dream of another age and state from that contemplated in Exodus, Leviticus, or Numbers.
At the same time there is the sternest guard against all curious prying into the will of God that was not revealed, against tampering, as it follows here, with divination or observation of times, against enchantments or charms, against consulting familiar spirits, wizards, or, necromancers. "For all that do these things are an abomination unto Jehovah: and because of these abominations Jehovah thy God doth drive them out from before thee. Thou shalt be perfect with Jehovah thy God. For these nations, which thou shalt possess, hearkened unto observers of times, and unto diviners: but Jehovah thy God hath not suffered thee so to do."
Assuredly this principle is in no way weakened in the present day. I take this opportunity of solemnly warning every soul more particularly the young from levity in hankering after that which they do not understand, and very especially in the way of giving up their will to any one but the Lord Jesus. This is the essential point of danger. I do not raise the smallest doubt that there are powers in the natural world which lie quite beyond the explanation of men. It is not my wish therefore to excite a kind of hue and cry against that which may not be yet explained. Let us avoid the presumption of supposing that we can account for everything. But in our ignorance (which the wisest most feel and own) this wisdom at least ought to belong to the least of God's children, that they know in whom they believe, that they have His word and His Spirit, and can count on infinite love and power as well as wisdom on their behalf. They can well afford therefore to leave what is beyond themselves or any others in the hands of God their Father. They with sorrow see others rush in who have nothing higher, who have no God to count on or look to.
But above all beware. Whenever any one asks you to give up your mind or will to another were it but for a moment there is the evident hand of the devil in it. This is no question of physical powers, or of what is naturally inexplicable. What is behind giving up yourself, your will, to any one but God, is plain enough in its character and consequences; it is too easy to understand it. The divine axiom is that the Lord and He alone has a right to you. Consequently such a demand proves that Satan is taking advantage, it may be of what is natural, but certainly of you. Hence under cover of occult laws, there is something deeper than what is natural behind the call. Do not therefore be deceived by the fact that there may be and are properties beyond our ken in the realm of nature. There is also the working of the enemy, which under new forms reveals the same principle of evil which has wrought since the flood. It has changed its name, but it is substantially the identical evil against which Jehovah was here warning His earthly people. Now we, if drawn aside, are far more guilty than they, from the very fact that God has spread out His word with incomparably greater fulness, and given us by the Holy Ghost since redemption the power of entering into His mind and will, far exceeding anything on which even a high priest could draw in times of old. Here no doubt a divine oracle was looked to, and an answer received in peculiar cases; but there is no possible case of difficulty, there is no point whatever that concerns God or man, for which there is not an answer in the written word, although we may have to wait on Him for profiting by it.
In due order then we find not merely all this curious dabbling with evil peremptorily set aside and superseded, not only now the introduction of priests, Levites, and judges, ordinary or extraordinary, but of the great prophet Christ Himself. It is one of those striking sketches which the Spirit of God intersperses throughout scripture. Here and there Christ more than usually shines. I admit that the Spirit of Christ (or allusion to Him) in one way or another is found everywhere; but here it is most manifest. "Jehovah thy God will raise up unto thee a prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken; according to all that thou desiredst of Jehovah thy God in Horeb in the day of the assembly, saying, Let me not hear again the voice of Jehovah my God, neither let me see this great fire any more, that I die not. And Jehovah said unto me, They have well spoken that which they have spoken. I will raise them up a prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him." Undoubtedly every word has acquired a force far beyond what could be looked for before this revelation, but each expression now is bright when we see its verification in the Lord Jesus. But not only is their fulness of truth made known by Jesus alone, but also the utmost danger of slighting Him, and thus losing all the more. "It shall come to pass that whosoever will not hearken unto my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him. But the prophet, which shall presume to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or that shall speak in the name of other gods, even that prophet shall die."
Thus plainly we have the true prophet put forward, Christ Himself. For its application to Him, in the face of all the unbelief of men, is affirmed by the Holy Ghost over and over, by Peter in Acts 3:1-26, and by Stephen in Acts 7:1-60; and in point of fact we do not even need these citations of the passage. The entire New Testament is itself the irrefragable demonstration that Christ is the prophet here referred to, and of the consequent folly and sin of listening to another. For He is come; and God made this fact to be so much the more manifest in a more glorious way still for chosen witnesses. His own voice set aside Moses and Elias, though the one might be the introducer of the law and the other its great restorer. For it was the Son that was now to be heard, and He alone is left, the others disappearing. Unquestionably this goes beyond the revelation that was given by Moses here, while it is the highest possible confirmation of it.
In Deuteronomy 19:1-21 we have the order in detail for the three cities of refuge, and then for three more, as in the early part of the book we saw the first set apart on the other side of the Jordan; for God on the one hand would mark the seriousness of blood-shedding; on the other, He would not confound a death at unawares with that which was deliberate murder. In no case however would God have His people to forget that it was His land, and consequently if blood were shed there, that it was thereby defiled. It called for serious thought. Man that was made in the image of God had his blood shed there. God takes notice of it, but that which had a higher and a deeper reference requires not to be proved now. I have already dwelt upon it. Only take notice of the difference between the allusion here and in Numbers. There we saw it was applied especially to the blood-guilty while out of the land of their possession. Here is not a word said about the death of the priest that was anointed with the oil. The reason is manifest. The book of Deuteronomy applies to the people when they are just on the point of entering the land. Thus the insertions and omissions of the Spirit of God are as notable in the books of Moses as in the Gospels themselves. We may be more familiar with the idea and effect of design in the Gospels, but it is just as true here and everywhere else.
In verses 12-13 the greatest care is enjoined to hinder all abuse through the cities of refuge. No facility must be given thereby for a murderer to find permanent shelter there. If blood was shed intentionally and deliberately, the elders of his city were bound to send and fetch him thence, delivering him over to the avenger of blood that he might die.*
*People must be hard set for a fault who can, like Dr. Davidson (Introd. O. T. i. 96), array this chapter against Numbers 35:14; because the latter, written before the former, speaks of six cities of refuge, three on either side of the Jordan, whereas the latter book speaks only of three at first, to which three were to be added after Moses' death. It is a ridiculous inference that the same writer did not compose both books, or at least the passage respecting these cities. The second is the general law of the institutions, the second gives the more minute ordering of the details. And this is confirmed, not weakened, byDeuteronomy 4:41-44; Deuteronomy 4:41-44 where it is said Moses set apart three on the east side, just as Numbers 35:1-34 enjoined; while Deuteronomy 19:1-21 shows us not these only but three more, if Jehovah enlarged their coast as He had sworn to do. Only an evil eye could find want of order or harmony here.
Then we find further care taken as to witnesses, and this affirmed by the great law of just retribution; that is to say, that when a witness testified what was deliberately false, and of course therefore malicious, the punishment which would have been adjudged in case of its truth was ordered to fall on him that raised the evil report. All this is carefully seen to. "And thine eye shall not pity; but life shall go for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot."
Then in Deuteronomy 20:1-20 comes in the law of battles. We have the utmost care taken that they should be in no way conformed to the Gentile license. The governing principle here, as elsewhere, is confidence in Jehovah, the God who had taken His people, brought them out of Egypt into relationship with Himself, and was now placing them in His own land. It would be beneath the honour of God that any should be forced to fight His battles. He would give His people in everything to think of Himself. It was not a question of soldiery or strategy, of force or skill or fraud, but of Jehovah their God. It is evident that no means could more thoroughly purge from those who were to engage in battle what was unworthy of such a God and of such a people. It is referred to now as being not the least striking of the peculiarities of Deuteronomy, and it is obvious how it suits the case in every way. The heavenly land is for us the scene of contest with the enemy. There are no such laws of war in the other books of Moses; they are here only. The wilderness is the scene of temptation. Canaan is the place where the enemy must be fought and beaten. But there is no power by which he can be overcome but that of God. Consequently faintheartedness would be intolerable; for it could only arise from this that the people were thinking not of Jehovah their God, but of themselves or their enemies. Impossible thus to win the battles of Jehovah. What secures victory is the certainty that our God calls to the fight, that it is His battle, not ours: where it is so, we are as sure of the end as of the beginning. We are calmly convinced that as He does not send us at our own charges, so further He who calls to fight will secure that the enemy shall be vanquished.
Hence it is that God lays down in the most minute manner His consideration for His people. In the case of a new house, or of one who had planted a vineyard or betrothed a wife, all is cared for: where fearfulness of heart prevailed, such are made to feel that they were unworthy to enter on the battles of Jehovah. Further, there is beautiful consideration on His part for the enemy; for when they came nigh the threatened city, they were first called to proclaim peace to it: a singular way of making war, but worthy of God. He took no pleasure in war, and would accustom His people to go forth, even were it to fight, remembering themselves "shod with the preparation of peace," if I may so say. "And it shall be, if it [the city] make thee answer of peace, and open unto thee, then it shall be, that all the people that is found therein shall be tributaries unto thee, and they shall serve thee. And if it will make no peace with thee, but will make war against thee, then thou shalt besiege it: and when Jehovah thy God hath delivered it into thine hands, thou shalt smite every male thereof with the edge of the sword." There is just as serious a dealing with them, in proportion to the reality with which the offer of peace had been made before. God's ways are not as ours.
Further, "Thus shalt thou do unto all the cities which are very far off from thee." There was one exception: there must be no peace with the Canaanites; not because they were dreaded as rivals, but doomed to destruction because of their abominations and seductions. It is well known that some find a difficulty in this. Possibly it may interest others, if it do not relieve the first of their difficulty, to know that, typically considered, the Canaanites represent the emissaries of Satan, the spiritual wickedness in heavenly places, those rulers of the darkness of this world with whom we are called to wrestle now. They are specifically the powers of evil which continually turn every link of religion into a means of deliberate and ruinous dishonour of God. With such there can be, there ought to be, no terms, no compromise, no cessation of the fight at any time or under any possible circumstances. This is the typical force of what is referred to here.
I may just add the further remark, that of all the nations on the face of the earth, there was no such hotbed for every kind of corruption among men, and for all wickedness and abomination in the sight of God, as the Canaanites whom God devoted to destruction. It was therefore perfectly just, as far as righteousness was concerned, to hold up these Canaanites for a solemn warning to all the world and to all times. If national righteousness was sought, if there was to be the honour of God maintained in Israel, they must be extirpated; and there were the wisest reasons for doing that work by the sword of Israel. In the last lecture we saw that, so far from passing over His own people, God never dealt with any nation with the same strictness as with Israel. We saw that every soul of Israel perished in the wilderness except the two spies who stood for God even against their fellows as well as the multitude, and certainly, if God caused that all Israel should fall in the wilderness because of their sins, if He did not even spare the single fault of Moses which he himself records, where can men complain justly of the doom that befell such corrupters of the race, sure above all to be the moral destroyers of Israel had they been spared? In fact the children of Israel had not the faith to destroy them as they ought; they had not therefore the fidelity according to God's word to exterminate the Canaanites, and so much the worse for themselves; for they became the means of dragging Israel into abominations, and thus drew judgments down on them after no long time.
This then will suffice, I trust, to make plain the folly of distrusting scripture, and the wisdom of always setting to our seal that God is true, and that He is righteous. In short God is always good, true, wise, and right.
Remark another thing. When Israel did besiege a city, God showed His care, even if it were only for a tree good for human food, binding it with His own hand on His people in the midst of that which proved His face set against the enemies of His glory in the world. Nevertheless He would not allow them even there to act without consideration where was any food fit for the use of man. "The trees which thou knowest that they be not trees for meat, thou shalt destroy and cut them down;" but in case of those that furnished food, it was absolutely forbidden. Such is God, acting in time as He counsels from eternity to eternity, but condescending to speak and to exercise the thoughts of His people about the smallest matters for this life.
In Deuteronomy 21:1-23 we have some particulars of a remarkable nature, and peculiar to this book, on which a few words must be said. "If one be found slain in the land which Jehovah thy God giveth thee to possess it, lying in the field, and it be not known who hath slain him." What was to be done? "Then thy elders and thy judges shall come forth, and they shall measure unto the cities which are round about him that is slain." All was to be done with great care. "And it shall be that the city which is next to the slain man" God takes care even of that "And it shall be that the city which is next unto the slain man, even the elders of that city shall take an heifer, which hath not been wrought with, and which hath not drawn in the yoke. And the elders of that city shall bring down the heifer unto a rough valley, which is neither eared nor sown" (a figure of this world), "and shall strike off the heifer's neck there in the valley: and the priests the sons of Levi shall come near; for them Jehovah thy God hath chosen to minister unto him, and to bless in the name of Jehovah; and by their word shall every controversy and every stroke he tried: and all the elders of that city, that are next unto the slain man, shall wash their hands over the heifer that is beheaded in the valley: and they shall answer and say, Our hands have not shed this blood, neither have our eyes seen it. Be merciful, Jehovah, unto thy people Israel, whom thou hast redeemed, and lay not innocent blood unto thy people of Israel's charge. And the blood shall be forgiven them."
It is just so that Christ has been found slain in this world: God is willing to regard it so. He is found slain among them, among Israel themselves. This appears to be a gracious provision when God shall have cleared the godly remnant in the days that are coming, and these are about to be made the strong nation) and to enter on the land of their inheritance once more and for ever. It is the means by which God will wash them from the taint of blood in the land. He will not excuse them because their hands did not actually do the deed. It was of course done long before; still it was done there. Christ was found in the valley which was nearest to them. Hence, for Israel of that day, God will not pass by the fact. He will neither take excuses for it on the one hand, nor on the other will He judge them as irretrievably guilty. He will provide for them when grace has turned their heart, that the very sacrifice of Christ may serve in all its expiatory power to clear them of the guilt of shedding His precious blood. We must remember that the death of Christ has two aspects if closely looked at whether on man's part or on God's side. Humanly it was the worst possible guilt; in God's grace it is what alone cleanses from guilt. The man who cannot discern between these two truths, or who sacrifices one or other, has a great deal to learn of scripture, and indeed of his own sin and God's grace Here we have the type. The very principle disputed in a recent and painful controversy seems to me unanswerably decided by the Spirit in this shadow of good things to come.
Further: supposing there was the case of a wife, or the child of one that was beloved. "If a man have two wives, one beloved, and another hated, and they have borne him children, both the beloved and the hated, and if the firstborn son be hers that was hated: then it shall be, when he maketh his sons to inherit that which he hath, that he may not make the son of the beloved firstborn before the son of the hated, which is indeed the firstborn: but he shall acknowledge the son of the hated for the firstborn, by giving him a double portion of all that he hath." Here too we have in God's ways another remarkable type; for having first chosen Israel, He afterwards (as we know, because of their sin) was pleased to take the Gentiles to Himself. The Jews refused the testimony; and as for the Gentiles, it is said that they will hear. Nevertheless here He gives a beautiful provision to show that He has not done with that which shall come forth as the firstborn son of the apparently hated one of her he had first. On the contrary this is the very one for whom the rights of the inheritance will be preserved when repentance will be wrought in their hearts. Thus it is evident that the godly remnant of the latter day will have its rights reserved, according to His own precious word in this chapter.
But another direction follows. There is the case of the stubborn and rebellious son. To whom does this apply? To the people of Israel in their obstinate self-will and irreverence toward Jehovah their God. In all sorts of forms God sets it forth. Alas! when blessing is wrought, when the contrite heart of the remnant desires the Messiah, they will not all turn to God. Contrariwise the great mass of the nation will be more than ever rebellious and apostate. The end of this age will not see united hearts among the Jews, but a people severed and broken a people with the widest possible breaches among them: some whose hearts are truly touched by grace, as we have seen, who are destined to the place of the firstborn on the earth; most, on the other hand, who will fight to the last against God, and reject to their own perdition His testimony. This is the stubborn son; and as to him it is said, "Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place: and they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard." And such has Israel been. "And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die: so shalt thou put evil away from among you; and all Israel shall hear, and fear."
But the chapter does not even close with this. There is another scene, and a deeper one than all. "And if a man have committed a sin worthy of death, and he be to be put to death, and thou hang him on a tree: his body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but thou shalt in any wise bury him that day; (for he that is hanged is accursed of God;) that thy land be not defiled, which Jehovah thy God giveth thee for an inheritance." This may not call for lengthened remark, but assuredly for solemn reflection and profound thankfulness at the grace in which God turns the deepest shame and suffering which man heaped on Jesus to the purposes of redeeming love; for who knows not that Jesus took this place of the curse on the cross, to bear our judgment in the sight of God? He too knew what it was to be hanged on a tree knew what it was to be made a curse for us. Our souls have already entered into the blessing. But all shows how thoroughly Jesus is the object of the Holy Ghost; for a chapter, which looked somewhat obscure at first sight, is rendered plain and luminous and full of instruction the moment we bring Jesus in and see Him in relationship with His ancient people. Its substance and its spirit of course are equally true of the Christian, and in a higher way. It is entirely a question of whether we use the true light, or overlay the word of God with our own darkness. Unbelief not merely fails to see, but excludes and denies the only light of men.
In Deuteronomy 22:1-30 we have a group of different institutions as to questions of righteousness, care, love, tenderness the smallest matters as well as the greatest but they are so numerous, in themselves purposely the minutes" as well as the most momentous, that to dwell on them one by one would occupy much too long for the present design. All can understand however how the great object here is that God would form the heart of His people in this relationship and measure according to His own affections. God would give them not bare righteous but holy thoughts, and not this only, but mingled with tenderness when called for. This will be found true if the contents of the chapter be duly weighed.
But there is another consideration. In Deuteronomy 23:1-25 He would teach us differences in our Judgments and thoughts of others, and consequently in our conduct towards them. There are few things that men so much dislike in general as to be taunted with partiality specially those who may have a sense of righteousness according to God. Yet we must distinguish (though without partiality, which is always wrong); but if we are wise, we shall not be driven out of the painstaking and conscientious appraisal of all the circumstances which require to be taken into account; and we shall weigh also what God may give us to judge of each particular case and person, for He makes differences, though no respecter of persons. Where it is a question of His grace, difference there is none, but a dead level. On the one hand sin is a great leveller in presence of His eternal judgment; on the other hand grace is no less so in an opposite way, but there it is a question of the value of Christ and His work for bringing souls into His presence in favour and in peace. Alike lost in sins, we are alike saved from them by the faith of Jesus. But then in saying this we have said all here, and come into a host of differences on either side. This seems to me most clearly shown in our chapter.
For instance, see how this applies to those forbidden to enter into the congregation of Jehovah. And here note that it is His congregation; for this is the great subject-matter of the book: all finds its centre and its spring in Him. It is not merely the congregation of Israel; and this is an important thing to bear in mind as a matter of practical dealing. One will never act right in the church, if he looks at it merely as the church of saints, though in itself perfectly true. It is the church of God; and although we know many shrink from this as high ground, it is just so much the better. If it be the truth, can it be too high? We want all that can lift us above our own littleness and our own lowness. We are apt to get low enough without abandoning the only leverage calculated and adequate to give us the elevation we need. We want and have God; but giving up the place and relationship His grace has conferred on us through redemption is not the way to make us lowly. On the contrary the very fact that we bear in mind that it is God's church is the best and divine mode of making us most sensible of our shortcomings. If we regard it as merely an assembly of the saints, well we know that saints are poor creatures for the matter of that; so that we easily slip from poor thoughts into an excusing of sin; just as, on the other side, the flesh professing the highest theory will the sooner make itself manifest. If it be God's church, it becomes a serious matter how we act and how we speak.
In this case then we find that Jehovah lays down certain things as irreconcileable with their place and relationship to Him. They must carry themselves in a way suitable to His congregation; and amongst the rest "An Ammonite or Moabite shall not enter into the congregation of Jehovah; even to their tenth generation shall they not enter into the congregation of Jehovah for ever; because they met you not with bread and with water in the way, when ye came forth out of Egypt." Jehovah does not forget where it is a matter of government. He does forget (and it is precisely what He does) when it is a question of grace. Further He says, "Thou shalt not seek their peace, nor their prosperity all thy days for ever." But it is remarkable too that when speaking about the Edomite and I am not aware that it is ever said that He hated either of them as He hated Esau; but when speaking of the Edomite He says, "He is thy brother." So with those that once opposed them, "Thou shalt not abhor an Egyptian, because thou wast a stranger in his land." Thus, we see, it is not a question of hatred on our part, but of subjection to God, of taking the direction of our thoughts from His word, and of forming our judgments and our conduct according to it. I have no doubt at all that, when we weigh scripture, we shall in due time see the wisdom of it all. But it is not a question of how far we can appreciate the wisdom of God. Our business is to believe and obey Him; and there is the way in which He cares for the least of us. The simplest child of God may follow and be subject to His word.
Very probably the wisest have a difficulty in entering into all His wisdom nay, I am sure that they have. It is only a matter of very gradually growing up into His truth and infinite mind; but still it is open to us in the written word. We are invited to read and understand; for He has revealed what was wholly beyond man to His children by the Spirit, and the Spirit searches all things, yea the deep things of God. It is our privilege to say "we know:" who can then put limits to the gracious power of God in giving us really to understand His ways? But understand or not, the word of God is imperative in its authority, and there is the greatest comfort too when we have done a thing simply because it is the will of our God. Then we begin to learn how blessed it is, how good and wise. This is far better than slowly coming to a judgment of our own and then acting. If we gave up faith for such guidance, how deep and irreparable the loss! In the first instance if we accept His word with simplicity, the wisdom given is a fruit of His grace instead of being ground gained to our credit. In the one case we glorify ourselves because we count it wise for reasons we think good; in the other case we are subject to God because it is His own will in His word. There is nothing so good as this, nothing so holy and humble as the wisdom of faith.
In the chapter before us various regulations of this kind are laid down. There is also the prohibition of anything that was uncomely and unbefitting for the camp. What camp? The camp of Israel? Of course, but much more. It was natural that there should be infirmity in the camp of men. This is not the question, but whether it be not the camp of Jehovah. Whatever the allowance when we remember that we are men, God would have His people trained up in the feeling that they have Him in their midst, and that all must be decided by what suits His presence.
So again inDeuteronomy 24:1-22; Deuteronomy 24:1-22 the question of divorce is treated, where we must say that a certain allowance was made them for the wilfulness of man in this respect. This is no matter of opinion; for our Lord Jesus Christ has ruled in this. Nobody can understand the law aright, or the Scriptures of the Old Testament in general, unless he bear in mind that in it God is dealing with man as such. Consequently, though there is wisdom and goodness and righteousness, it is man in the flesh under trial, and hence it is not yet the perfection of the divine mind displayed. This last is only found when Christ comes. The first Adam is not the Second; and it was with the first man that God was then at work. No part of the law lacks the wisdom of God; but, Christ not being yet revealed, He did not as a fact go beyond man as he then was. To have brought in what was suitable for the Second man could not have applied to Israel in their then condition.
And God, it seems to me, has distinctly marked this in Scripture even in an outward fashion, inasmuch as He has not been pleased to give us His word even in the same tongue. The standing witness against the folly of confounding the two Testaments finds its rebuke in the patent fact that the Old Testament is in one language, the New Testament in another. So plain a difference on its very face one might have thought it impossible to overlook; but even believers accept shortsightedness in divine things, and just so far as tradition influences them; for people scarcely think about Scripture, and thus they do not know how to apply the clearest and surest facts, as well as God's words, before all eyes.
But there is much more than the use of different languages there is the difference between the first man fallen into sin and the Second man who first descended into the lower parts of the earth, and then ascended above the heavens after accomplishing the mighty work of redemption. Assuredly this is all the difference possible, and it is just what reigns between the Old and the New Testament, not in the hearts of saints, but as a state of things. Consequently the relationship is altogether of another sort. Hence the provisions that were suitable and appropriate, when God had as an object before Him the first man, could not apply to the Second, under whose revelation and redemption we find ourselves. This must be borne in mind if we would judge rightly about these types, or the law in general which made nothing perfect.
Again we find in the rest ofDeuteronomy 24:1-22; Deuteronomy 24:1-22 as well as inDeuteronomy 25:1-19; Deuteronomy 25:1-19 a number of precepts of mercy and goodness as to the people even in the most ordinary matters of household life not the wife only but one's fellows, servants too, strangers, harvests and vineyards, down to the care of the cattle. The poor man who was in fault and got beaten was not forgotten. There must be no over-passing a certain measure, nor be anything that would make one's brother vile. Stripes may be due and needful; but there must be nothing to destroy respect. Jehovah finds His own interest in all the belongings of His people, and He would train up in His own nurture and admonition an important point for us to consider betimes.
Further, we find that anything like an advantage taken where feelings were raised against another is rebuked in the sternest manner. A righteous and equal measure is insisted on. But Amalek must not slip out of mind. "Remember what Amalek did unto thee by the way, when ye were come forth out of Egypt; how he met thee by the way, and smote the hindmost of thee, even all that were feeble behind thee, when thou wast faint and weary; and he feared not God. Therefore it shall be, when Jehovah thy God hath given thee rest from all thine enemies round about, in the land which Jehovah thy God giveth thee for an inheritance to possess it, that thou shalt blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven; thou shalt not forget it." Now, who will dare to say that this was wrong? Shall not the Judge of all the earth do and say what is righteous?
And this gives me occasion to press a few words from the New Testament, often forgotten in its spirit when its words may be remembered. It is the part of a Christian to abhor evil as much as to love what is good. Beware of the smallest sympathy with him who counts it good to be indifferent, lukewarm, not zealous, who likes no doubt what is pleasant and kindly in itself, but without detestation of that which dishonours God. There is a total defect in the Christian character which (to speak typically) has not the badger's skin as well as the covering of blue. Our Lord Jesus felt strongly against evil. He alone is perfection, and has shown this for our profit and example. Here we see the same principle inculcated in Amalek's case.
The truth is quite contrary to the spirit of the age, entirely different from what people call a sweet tone, or the spirit of Christ. They know little of Christ who talk thus. The fact is that had they heard Jesus denounce religious forms and men who walked not in faith, had they or their friends fallen under the censure which filled His soul say inMatthew 23:1-39; Matthew 23:1-39 it is to be feared that a similar strain of thought and feeling would have condemned the Son of God. This is of the more importance for those who, like us Christians, have to walk in communion with Christ and His cross at the same time that the power of evil reigns in the world We cannot escape trial of a serious kind, and to take it in grace such exactly is Christianity in practice. The millennium will be the overthrow of the power of evil, and consequently righteousness will govern. But what brings in the difficulty now is the perfection of God's ways in Christianity, whilst outwardly evil remains. God permits, but lifts the Christian above, the very worst evil. It rose up against the Son of God Himself; and the Christian follows Him and His cross. Accordingly this is precisely where and how he has to walk. The evil God permits to rage to the uttermost, but grace and truth in Christ in the power of the Spirit is brought into his heart and governs his ways. Hence he is called to abhor evil just as much as to love that which is good; and the heart which does not show divine hatred of evil has really but scant love for what is good. The one is the measure of the other: they are inseparable from Christ, and should be from the Christian.
In Deuteronomy 26:1-19 we arrive at a brighter scene: we anticipate Israel entering on their own land. Here we find a relief from the numerous exhortations which suppose dangers on every side. On the contrary blessing flows richly in prospect; for God is seen accomplishing what He had promised His people of old. If He has brought them into the land, they come in grateful acknowledgment of His grace. "And it shall be when thou art come in unto the land which Jehovah thy God giveth thee for an inheritance, and possesses" it, and dwellest therein, that thou shalt take of the first of all the fruit of the earth, which thou shalt bring of thy land that Jehovah thy God giveth thee, and shalt put it in a basket, and shalt go unto the place which Jehovah thy God shall choose to place his name there. And thou shalt go unto the priest that shall be in those days, and say unto him, I profess this day unto Jehovah thy God." Here then is the full confession that God's hand had accomplished what His mouth had promised. This in a higher atmosphere is the characteristic of the Christian. It is the same principle, not of promises only, but these made good in Christ. The Christian is not merely a man that is passing through the wilderness, but already blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ. Both are true. If we have our march through the wilderness, we have also our portion in the heavenly land.
Now what becomes of him who is conscious of this place? For what does God look? Remember, it is the place of every Christian, and a part of the ministry of Christ to put every Christian into the consciousness of it. He cannot worship God fully unless he have in his soul the certainty of his nearness to God through Christ and His work as the ground of his relationship. As to his body, he is no doubt in the earth, still surrounded with what is far from God; but when he looks up into the presence of God, he knows that his home is there. It is not merely that he will find his home there, but that his life and righteousness being there, the Holy Ghost has come down to give him a present link with Christ in glory. The consequence is that there is that in him which corresponds with the Israelite's here bringing of the fruits of the land before Jehovah. His praise of God is to be founded on the Spirit's leading him to worship according to the new place of blessing, but with a far deeper sense than ever of his unworthiness in the light of such grace on God's part.
"Thou shalt speak and say before Jehovah thy God, A Syrian ready to perish was my father, and he went down into Egypt, and sojourned there with a few, and became there a nation, great, mighty, and populous: and the Egyptians evil entreated us, and afflicted us, and laid upon us hard bondage: and when we cried unto the Jehovah God of our fathers, Jehovah heard our voice, and looked on our affliction, and our labour, and our oppression: and Jehovah brought us forth out of Egypt with a mighty hand, and with an outstretched arm, and with great terribleness, and with signs, and with wonders: and he hath brought us into this place, and hath given us this land, even a land that floweth with milk and honey. And now, behold, I have brought the first-fruits of the land." He had been brought into Canaan, as it is said, "which thou, O Jehovah, hast given me." "And thou shalt set it before Jehovah thy God." In whatever form the most important exercise of life in the Christian is worship. "And thou shalt rejoice in every good thing which Jehovah thy God hath given unto thee, and unto thine house, thou, and the Levite, and the stranger that is among you." This is another trait; that is, the heart going forth towards those that are poor, despised, miserable in the earth. This is supposed to follow afterwards.
Then, further, we find a peculiar direction as to the giving of tithes. "When thou hast made an end of tithing all the tithes of thine increase the third year, which is the year of tithing, and hast given it unto the Levite" (it was a special tithe), "then thou shalt say before Jehovah thy God, I have brought away the hallowed things out of mine house, and also have given them unto the Levite." It is not only that the heart considers what God has done for it, but it is brought also to regard those that are outwardly friendless in the world as the special object of our care. Are we learning such a duty before our God, and caring for them according to that which His bounty has given us? This is what is next introduced. Thus the Israelite was called not only to an expression of praise, but to the confession, in an exercised conscience, how he used the place of blessing into which he was brought; how far he diffused the sense of the blessing around.
Last of all is a prayer; for no matter how God may bless us, to whatever extent He is pleased to make us a means of blessing to others (and both these are clearly the points we have had), there is this further consideration that we are not taken out of the place of dependence. Worship does not weaken prayer. "Look down from thy holy habitation, from heaven, and bless thy people Israel, and the land which thou hast given us." Now we desire a blessing for the people of God, suitable to the position of grace in which we stand. This makes us feel the need of God moment by moment. "This day Jehovah thy God hath commanded thee to do these statutes and judgments." Again, obedience, instead of being in any measure enfeebled, is strengthened by the sense of the nearness to God into which we are brought. "Thou has avouched Jehovah this day to be thy God, and to walk in his ways, and to keep his statutes, and his commandments, and his judgments, and to hearken unto his voice: and Jehovah hath avouched thee this day to be his peculiar people, as he hath promised thee, and that thou shouldest keep all his commandments; and to make thee high above all nations which he hath made, in praise, and in name, and in honour; and that thou mayest be an holy people unto Jehovah thy God, as he hath spoken."
Next we come to another and a very important division of this book. The first remark I would make is that we must beware of confoundingDeuteronomy 27:1-26; Deuteronomy 27:1-26 with Deuteronomy 28:1-68. The two chapters are distinct in principle. It is not merely a question of form, but they are altogether distinct in character. A scripture which will help much to put this in a clear light is the use that the apostle Paul makes of Deuteronomy 27:1-26 in citing it in Galatians 3:1-29. He does not quote from Deuteronomy 28:1-68. One may boldly say that it would have been incompatible with the object of the Spirit of God to have there cited anything hence but from Deuteronomy 27:1-26. Certainly such is the fact; and in scripture, if not in nature fallen as it is, whatever is is right.
Now this calls for our notice. In the 9th and 10th verses it is said, "So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham. For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them." This is a quotation from the last verse of Deuteronomy 27:1-26. Of what is the apostle treating? Not merely of that which pertains to the present life. He is looking at law as that which brings in the curse for ever. Using this light then, it is not a question of present things, but of a curse in the sight of God. This gives the true key to the passage as compared with the next chapter. We shall see that the blessings and the curses of Deuteronomy 28:1-68 are strictly those that pertain to the actual curse of man here below.
In Deuteronomy 27:1-26 we read, "And Moses with the elders of Israel commanded the people, saying, Keep all the commandments which I command you this day," and he directs that when they passed over Jordan they were to set up great stones. "And it shall be on the day when ye shall pass over Jordan unto the land which Jehovah thy God giveth thee, that thou shalt set thee up great stones, and plaster them with plaster: and thou shalt write upon them all the words of this law, when thou art passed over, that thou mayest go in unto the land which Jehovah thy God giveth thee, a land that floweth with milk and honey; as the Jehovah God of thy fathers hath promised thee. Therefore it shall be when ye be gone over Jordan, that ye shall set up these stones, which I command you this day, in mount Ebal, and thou shalt plaster them with plaster. And there shalt thou build an altar unto Jehovah thy God, an altar of stones: thou shalt not lift up any iron tool upon them. Thou shalt build the altar of Jehovah thy God of whole stones: and thou shalt offer burnt-offerings thereon unto Jehovah thy God: and thou shalt offer peace-offerings, and shalt eat there, and rejoice before Jehovah thy God." But further he says (verse 12), "These shall stand upon mount Gerizim to bless the people, when ye come over Jordan; Simeon, and Levi and Judah, and Issachar, and Joseph, and Benjamin: and these shall stand upon mount Ebal to curse; Reuben, Gad, and Asher, and Zebulun, Dan, and Naphtali." Thus the charge is given that half the tribes were to stand on one mountain to bless, the other half on another mountain to curse. Here we find how it is carried out. "And the Levites shall speak, and say unto all the men of Israel with a loud voice, Cursed," and so it was through every verse to the last.
How comes this? Where are the blessings? Nowhere. Nothing remains but the curses. Is not this solemn? The point is, as the apostle puts it, the bearing of the law on souls before God. By Moses' word half the tribes are directed to take one mountain to pronounce the blessing, the other half to pronounce the curse; but when all has been carried out, scripture has nothing to record but the curse, without a word of the blessing whatever. It is impossible for man to find blessing from the law in the presence of God when we come to its positive application. No matter what may be the call, when we stand before the fact, there is nothing but a curse to speak of. One scarcely knows a more solemn scripture, or more characteristic of this book.
It is not that there is the least unwillingness on God's part to bless, far from it; and the charge was given to bless as much as to curse. But alas! the creature, the first man, was under probation by the law of God; and the result is, and can only be, that if it depends on man, the only thing he gets when we come to the fact is the curse. The curses were pronounced, and not a word about blessings. There was a call and due preparation to bless; but in result there were no blessings to pronounce, nothing but the curse. And what an awful thing it is that in this Christendom of ours, after the gospel itself has been brought in at the cost of the death of Jesus the Son of God, this is what is thundered out still the curse and not the blessing! Is it a legitimate excuse, that an entire want of spiritual understanding prevails? Why should it exist with Deuteronomy commented on by the apostle Paul to the Galatians? There is no want of divine light there. What we see in both is the perfect matchless wisdom of God. In the one Moses speaks of the awful issue, himself full of love to the people, and of fervent desires for them; in the other, the light which the gospel gives by Paul confirms it: on the ground of law there remains nothing for man but the curse. Blessings may be held out, but there is no hand that can take up the blessing, any more than a mouth here to pronounce them: there is a dead and ominous silence as to the blessing. The curses sound out from the mountain of cursing, and are recorded in all their minute sternness; but there is no blessing here reported from the mountain of blessing. Not a hint of these is given in Deuteronomy 27:1-26. In order to eke out an appearance of blessing, men have confounded the chapters and their wholly distinct bearings. They have looked for the blessing in the next chapter. They are quite wrong. There is not the slightest ground for such a connection.
Let us turn toDeuteronomy 28:1-68; Deuteronomy 28:1-68 and the distinction will be seen with singular clearness. "And it shall come to pass, if thou shalt hearken diligently unto the voice of Jehovah thy God, to observe and to do all his commandments which I command thee this day, that Jehovah thy God will set thee on high above all nations of the earth." It is merely national It has nothing to do with the soul in the sight of God. "And all these blessings shall come on thee, and overtake thee, if thou shalt hearken unto the voice of Jehovah thy God. Blessed shalt thou be in the city, and blessed shalt thou be in the field." This is not what a poor soul wants. It in no way meets a sense of guilt or a dread of judgment. The sinner needs something which will stand for ever. He wants what will be in heaven, and not merely in the field or in the city. He wants acceptance for himself with God, not merely to receive in his basket and in his store; there is nothing of that sort here. Thus the distinction is radical and quite plain. What shows that these are not the blessings which were to have been pronounced on the mount of blessing is that we find at the end of the blessings these analogous curses follow after verse 15. "But it shall come to pass, if thou wilt not hearken unto the voice of Jehovah thy God, to observe to do all his commandments and his statutes which I command thee this day; that all these curses shall come upon thee, and overtake thee: cursed shalt thou be in the city, and cursed shalt thou be in the field." In the previous chapter it is no question of where we are cursed, but rather of the person cursed. Here it is a particular curse which falls on a particular sphere.
In Deuteronomy 27:1-26 it is an absolute and a personal curse; it is not in mere circumstances, however great the change. Such is the difference. In short then in this chapter we have the profound intimation of what the law comes to in man's the first man's hands. Whatever may be the goodness of God, man is ruined. The consequence is, there is only a curse and no blessing.
In Deuteronomy 28:1-68 we have law, not looked at in its own nature as a question between God and man, but regarded as the rule of earthly government, as having to do with the circumstances of man. And here accordingly we have the blessing on the one hand and the curse on the other. Nothing can be plainer than the teaching conveyed when the idea is once seized.
It is in vain to say that we receive the blessing which belongs to Deuteronomy 27:1-26. We do not. There we get the curse and no blessing. But in Deuteronomy 28:1-68 we get certain blessings and then curses. Thus as a part of this chapter we have the state in which Israel was to be found to the present day. "Jehovah shall cause thee to be smitten before thine enemies. Jehovah will smite thee with the botch of Egypt, and with the emerods, and with the scab, and with the itch, whereof thou canst not be healed. Jehovah shall smite thee with madness, and blindness, and astonishment of heart," and so on. This is detailed. "And thou shalt become an astonishment, a proverb, and a byword, among all nations whither Jehovah shall lead thee." It is not a question therefore of dealing according to God's nature, but a matter of His dispensational ways with a nation in this world, and nothing more.
In Deuteronomy 29:1-29 another important point comes up a change still more manifest. We have the fact that "These are the words of the covenant, which Jehovah commanded Moses to make with the children of Israel in the land of Moab, beside the covenant which he made with them in Horeb." Now it is important to bear in mind that, if it had been merely the covenant made in Horeb, the children of Israel could never have entered the land at all. It was necessary, according to the far-counselling wisdom and mercy of God, that there should be another covenant. I say not the new one, but that God should bring in fresh terms, and not merely insist on the strict application of the law that was pronounced in Horeb. He brings in governmental mercy. Thus God now as it were says, Here you are on the very borders of the land, and I will bring you in. You must take care how you behave when you are there. Hence it is God making fresh terms for the very purpose of putting His people in the land without compromising Himself. This is here shown with care.
The end of the chapter gives us even more. When the people had altogether and publicly failed, grace can bring out from God Himself the only suited remedy. Now Israel take their place before God. They are called to keep the words of the covenant; the very children are brought in and put before Jehovah, with solemn warning against idolatry, as well as other acts of rebellion. But the point lies here: "The secret things belong unto Jehovah our God, but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law." The character of this has been often noticed before; but it cannot be too much insisted on always; that grace, though in a distant and enigmatic manner, alludes to an unrevealed secret, whereby, when the people have utterly failed, as we have seen, on the ground of law, God will not fail to find ways and means of justifying them by faith. It is not merely words by which He can bring them all provisionally into the land, but means as yet secret by which He can justify them in the face of all their faults, and work in their hearts according to what is in His heart in short, His secrets of grace.
Accordingly all is strongly confirmed by that which Deuteronomy 30:1-20 reveals. Jehovah takes them up where they are. He supposes them driven out of every land under heaven; yet that in their low estate their heart, no longer haughty but circumcised, turns before Himself. "Thou shalt return and obey the voice of Jehovah, and do all His commandments which I command thee this day. And Jehovah thy God will make thee plenteous in every work of thine hand," etc.... "if thou shalt hearken unto the voice of Jehovah thy God to keep his commandments and his statutes which are written in this book of the law, and if thou turn unto Jehovah thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul. For this commandment which I command thee this day, it is not hidden from thee, neither is it far off It is not in heaven, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it."
Now these words, it is notorious, are applied by the apostle Paul in Romans 10:1-21; and we never can overlook the applications of the New Testament without losing a deeply interesting and weighty key for understanding the Old. For what does the apostle use them? For the very purpose which has been already hinted in the close of the last chapter. The children of Israel had completely ruined themselves under the law. They had failed before God. The righteousness which the law claimed had only proved their actual unrighteousness. What was to become of them Christ is brought in "the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth." Hence therefore the apostle by the Spirit gives the passage of Deuteronomy this admirable turn, that it is no question of going up to heaven to find the Saviour, nor of going down into the bowels of the earth to bring Him from the dead that the gospel brings the word of salvation near to the very door, "in thy mouth and in thy heart." It is only to believe and confess the risen Lord Jesus Therefore, in virtue of the gospel of God, let them take the full everlasting blessing of His grace, once wicked, defiled, lost, but now "washed, sanctified, justified, in the name of our Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God," if I may quote another scripture.
On this principle will God surely bless His ancient people Israel, scattered and broken among the Gentiles, when it becomes impossible therefore, as far as their state is concerned, to carry on their Jewish ritual. What will become of them? Their heart bows to the word of God; they look up to the Messiah, and God will work in grace. Powerless, sensible of past wickedness, full of darkness (for I have no doubt that they are those described in the end of Isaiah 50:1-11 as the servants of Jehovah who walk in darkness, and see no light), nevertheless their heart turns to Jehovah, and they stay on their God a condition that may not suit the Christian now, but which grace will open to a Jew then. Such is precisely the happy turn furnished by the apostle in Romans, only of course with a fuller application to the Christian; but it is on the same principle that God will deal with the remnant of the Jews by and by.
After this, inDeuteronomy 31:1-30; Deuteronomy 31:1-30, we find Moses about to close his ministry. He had given, so to speak, his last discourse, and addresses to them a most solemn warning, telling them that he knew the rebellion of which they would be guilty. Joshua is charged, and the Levites also.
But Moses does not end without a song (Deuteronomy 32:1-52); and this song is grounded on the secret things of God's grace, though it also embrace the judgments of the latter day. Not ignorant of the evil, he looks onward to the blessing that would surely come to them. He deeply feels what they would do against Jehovah in their stiff-necked folly and ingratitude; but he beholds in prophetic vision what He will do for them.
Accordingly he says, "Give ear, O ye heavens, and I will speak; and hear, O earth, the words of my mouth." Because he would publish the name of Jehovah, they were to ascribe greatness to their God. He is the rock abiding in unshakeable strength for His people. Not they but He is this tower of strength. "His doing is perfect: for all his ways are judgment: a God of truth without iniquity, just and right is he." As for the people, it was manifest what they were. The corruption was theirs, not His; it is that of His children, theirs is the spot a perverse and crooked generation The lawgiver indignantly reproves their ingratitude and clenches it the more by reminding them that it was no new thought on God's part. Their place in the world to His glory was no last resource that would be taken up in the last days. "When the Most High (Elion) divided to the nations their inheritance, when he separated the sons of Adam, he set the bounds of the people according to the number of the children of Israel."
This, it is true, has not the eternal character of our election as Christians. (Ephesians 1:1-23) The difference is just and appropriate. When God reveals His counsels in Christ touching His children, His choice is declared to be before the foundation of the world. Not so with Israel. It is always said to be in time, though just as sovereign as in our case. Eternal election would not suit that of a nation. The choice of Israel is strictly connected with the earth. The speciality in His choice of us is that it is outside creation; it attaches to the eternity of God Himself, and is altogether apart from the created scene that was about to be ruined by man and Satan. God would have saints to share His nature morally and to enjoy Himself, no less than angels to do His pleasure as His servants. What had that to do with creation? It is a question of God forming according to His own wisdom and love those who would be able to share His mind and enjoy His love. And this is done by Christ His Son, and made known by the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven. It is altogether above a question of creature condition. Nobody doubts that those who were to be so blessed did in fact form part of the creation, yea, in its deepest ruin and guilt. We had our part in that world which rejected and crucified Jesus. Then comes in the triumph of grace. It was necessary that there should be not merely eternal life given us in Christ but redemption. Life would have been enough, had we never been sinners. But we were guilty and lost, and therefore Christ comes to die in atonement. He took our judgment on Himself and suffered for our sins, the just for the unjust, to bring us to God. The consequence is that He in His death on the cross conciliated what was otherwise irreconcileable, and made it righteous for God to deliver us, as well as free to bring out withal those eternal counsels which He had in Christ before the world was. With Israel the case is different. There, as we have said, the election is in time, the people separated to Jehovah in the midst of the bounds assigned to the other nations among the sons of Adam; for it is no question here of the divine nature, but of the human race. "He set the bounds of the people according to the number of the children of Israel. For Jehovah's portion is his people; Jacob is the lot of his inheritance."
Then Moses sings of His wonderful love and goodness and patience to that people and their falling into every kind of iniquity, sacrificing even to demons ("he-goats" they are contemptuously called), not to God, but "to gods whom they knew not, to new gods that came newly up, whom your fathers feared not. Of the Rock that begat thee thou art unmindful, and hast forgotten God that formed thee." Alas! Jehovah then has to prepare arrows against His people, has to pour out His vengeance even on His loved Israel more guilty than any other, and in fact to leave them for a no-people (the Gentiles), by whom He would provoke the Jews to jealousy.* Then the heathen take advantage of God's indignation against His people, till He at last in mercy: to Israel will rise up to deal with their enemies. "For Jehovah shall judge his people, and repent himself for his servants, when he seeth that their power is gone, and there is none shut up or left. And he shall say, Where are their gods, their rock in whom they trusted, which did eat the fat of their sacrifices, and drank the wine of their drink-offerings? let them rise up and help you, and be your protection. See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god with me: I kill, and I make alive; I wound, and I heal: neither is there any that can deliver out of my hand. For I lift up my hand to heaven, and say, I live for ever. If I whet my glittering sword, and mine hand take hold on judgment; I will render vengeance to mine enemies, and will reward them that hate me. I will make mine arrows drunk with blood, and my sword shall devour flesh; and that with the blood of the slain and of the captives, from the beginning of revenges upon** the enemy. Rejoice, O ye nations, with his people: for he will avenge the blood of his servants, and will render vengeance to his adversaries, and will be merciful unto his land, and to his people." Then not only will God deliver His people Israel, but He will cause the very nations themselves to rejoice with His people in the enlarging circle of His grace; for though the principle apply under the gospel, it is only in the millennial reign that the full import of their predicted joy together will be realized.
*It is hard to imagine a greater lack of spiritual intelligence than is displayed in the remarks of Dr. Davidson (Introduction to O. T. i. 391-393) and the German authors he controverts. The choice lies between deeper or shallower pits of error. "The thirty-second chapter as far as verse 43, contains Moses' song referred to in 31: 19, 22, 30. It is pretty clear that the song was not written by the Deuteronomist himself, who never appears as a poet, and from whose style it strongly differs. Neither can it have been written by the Jehovist, for the difference of diction and manner is too great. It proceeded from some unknown poet, whose historical allusions and linguistic peculiarities show that he lived after Moses (!) and even after Solomon (!!). Thus the fifteenth verse presupposes that the Israelites had passed through highly prosperous and peaceful times; and in the twenty-first the people referred to are the Assyrians, who had attained to the height of their power, and are described in the thirty-third chapter of Isaiah All internal evidence tends to the last quarter of the eighth century as the period when the song was written, as Ewald has proved (!!!). The Deuteronomist, thinking it worthy of Moses, though it was not written for the purpose of passing as Mosaic, adopted and put it into his mouth. We cannot agree with Ewald," etc. "These observations show that we differ from Knobel, who assigns the song to the Syrian period. Instead of referring verses 21, 30, 31, 35, to the Assyrians, he supposes the Syrians to be meant, chiefly because he thinks that the former would have been spoken of in stronger language, and that the captivity would have been announced. But Knobel relies much on the seventh verse [there is confusion here: it must be of Deuteronomy 33:1-29 ], which relates to Judah, as evidence that the chapter belongs to a much earlier time than is commonly (!) assigned to it. He takes the allusion in the verse to be to David's living at a distance from Saul in banishment; while the twelfth verse he applies to Gibeon, whither the tabernacle had been brought after Nob had been destroyed by Saul. These are precarious allusions to rely upon. We do not believe with Knobel that the poem belongs to the time of Saul, and are surprised to find the critic asserting that the writers ofGenesis 49:1-33; Genesis 49:1-33. and Deuteronomy 33:1-29 were independent of one another without perceptible imitation on the part of either.
"The verses immediately succeeding the song, viz., Deuteronomy 32:44-47, belong to the Deuteronomist himself, as the allusion in verse 46 to all the words of Moses plainly shows. The remainder of the chapter, viz., 48-52, is Elohistic, having been taken from the Elohim-writer and put here by the Deuteronomist. It is partly a repetition ofNumbers 27:12-23; Numbers 27:12-23, as Bleek has pointed out."
I have given this long extract as a specimen not only of the speculative mania that characterises the school, but also of their readiness to impute the basest dishonesty to the holy men of God who spoke from Him as they were borne on by the Holy Spirit. They think little of imputing to their imaginary Deuteronomist the fraud of putting into Moses' mouth what, according to them, Moses never uttered. Such an imposture God's word! But enough of this. The apostle Paul refutes them all beforehand in a few words which carry the force and light of truth, as theirs do of clashing inanities. He declares that verse 21 is the language of Moses, and that the allusion is to the Gentiles called while God counts Israel Lo-ammi. (Romans 10:19) Neither Syrians nor Assyrians are in view then, but, during the temporary exclusion of the ancient people, the call of those not a people to move Israel to jealousy. Compare Romans 11:1-36.
**Literally, "from the split head of the enemy."
In Deuteronomy 33:1-29 we have a blessing pronounced on the various tribes of Israel. This may be entered into rather more closely just now, though one cannot hope to do so with satisfaction in so small a space. Let me only just say that it is altogether in reference to the land which the people were on the point of entering. This is perhaps the chief difference as compared with Jacob's blessing. In the latter case notice was taken of the tribes from the beginning of their history to the end, and apart from their possessing the land or not; whereas the blessing that Moses pronounces here is in the strictest subordination to the great object of Deuteronomy. from first to last the point of the book is God's bringing His people into the land, and putting them into a relationship as immediate with Himself as was consistent with the first man. This we have systematically and always: so the blessing here is suitable to it. Moses does not therefore show us historically the course of things as when Jacob prophesied, but a more specific benediction of the people in view of their place in relation to Jehovah in the land.
The song opens with the vision of Jehovah coming from Sinai and shining forth from Seir as well as Paran. It is His judicial manifestation to His people, His saints, around Him in the wilderness: from His right hand [went] a fiery law for them. "Yea, He loveth the peoples: all his saints are in thy hand; and they sat down at thy feet, each receive thy decisions." The special place of Moses is then named as commanding a law, the possession of the congregation of Jacob; he is king in Jeshurun when the heads of the people, the tribes of Israel, gathered together.
As to the first-born, the word is, Let Reuben live and not die, and his men be few.*
*There are cases, in Hebrew as in other tongues, where the negative particle may and must be understood from the context; and so our translators took the passage before us. But this should never be, unless it be implied from the chief clause, which is not the fact here.
The next, though a singular choice in appearance, is ordered in divine wisdom so as to bring forward that tribe which would take the place of Reuben, politically soon, but eventually according to the counsels of God. For of Judah Christ was to be born after the flesh. "And this is for Judah; and he said, Hear, O Jehovah, the voice of Judah, and bring him unto his people: let his hands be numerous for him, and be thou an help from his adversaries." We know that the Jews have long had a separate place; but the day is coming when Judah and Israel shall be joined in one people according to the expressive symbol of Ezekiel, which may illustrate the language of Moses.
His own tribe has then his blessing. "And of Levi he said, Thy Thummim and thy Urim are for thy holy [i.e. pious] one, whom thou didst prove at Massah, with whom thou didst strive at the waters of Meribah; who said of his father and of his mother, I have not seen him; neither did he acknowledge his brethren, nor know his own children; for they kept thy word, and guarded thy covenant. They shall teach thy judgments to Jacob, and thy law to Israel: they shall put incense before thee, and whole burnt-offering upon thine altar.* Bless, Jehovah, his force, and accept the work of his hands: strike through the loins of those that rise up against him, and of those that hate him, that they rise not again."
*Thus, if Simeon disappear, Levi gains a good degree by fidelity at the severest crisis in the desert history of Israel. No doubt the word in Deuteronomy 33:1-29 is supposed to be after that in Genesis 49:1-33; but there is not the smallest ground for the assumption of incredulity that the writer of the one lived after the other. As the representation of Scripture is that Moses wrote both, so the differences in the view taken on each occasion are perfectly compatible and indeed remarkably verified. Levi is involved in the sentence with Simeon according toGenesis 49:1-33; Genesis 49:1-33. But Deuteronomy 33:1-29, though it omits Simeon, does not reverse the scattering predicted of Levi by Jacob; but it turns that very circumstance into a blessing for Israel and an honour to the tribe which covered over their old fault with the truest zeal for Jehovah's honour and a burning love for the people at all cost to their own feelings and appearances. Ability to plead for man is in proportion to faithfulness for God. The priesthood was within that tribe, and the service of the sanctuary, and the teaching of the people.
The blessing of Benjamin* alludes to Jehovah's dwelling there; for Jerusalem was within the limits of that tribe which Judah just skirted. Joseph has his full twofold portion in the land. Zebulun's blessing** is rather without, Issachar's within. Gad's haste to get rich appears, though he shared the trials of the people, Dan's warlike impetuosity is noted; and Naphtali's peaceful satisfaction with his portion; and Asher's acceptance among his brethren, and abundant resources and vigour.
*"Of Benjamin he said, The beloved of Jehovah shall dwell in safety by him; he shall harbour him all the day, and he shall dwell between his shoulders." The prophet alludes to Jerusalem as the place of the sanctuary and throne, the city of the great King. But the notion that the language savours of the reign of Josiah or near Jeremiah's day is wholly unfounded. There was anything but safe tabernacling then for Benjamin. This is yet more evidently refuted in what follows.
For on Joseph the inspiring Spirit dwells largely. "Blessed of Jehovah be his land for the precious things of the heavens, for the dew and for the deep couching beneath, and for the precious things brought forth by the sun, and for the precious things driven out by the moon, and for the chief things of the ancient mountains, and for the precious things of the lasting hills, and the good pleasure of him that dwelt in the bush: let it come on the head of Joseph, and on the top of the head of him that was separated from his brethren. The first-born of his herd is honour to him, and his horns the horns of a buffalo: with them he shall push peoples together to the ends of the earth; and they are the myriads of Ephraim, and they are the thousands of Manasseh." It is absurd to suppose such a blessing written, I will not say under Josiah's reign, but even in the earliest days of the rent kingdom of Israel.
**"And of Zebulun he said, Rejoice, Zebulun, in thy going out; and, Issachar, in thy tents. They shall call the peoples to the mountain; there they shall sacrifice sacrifices of righteousness; for they shall suck the abundance of the seas, even treasures hidden in the sand. And of Gad he said, Blessed be he that enlargeth Gad: he dwelleth as a lioness, and feareth the arm, also the crown of the head. And he provideth the first part for himself, for there is the portion covered for the lawgiver; and he came with the heads of the people; he did the righteousness of Jehovah, and his judgments with Israel. And of Dan he said, Dan is a lion's whelp; he shall leap from Bashan. And of Naphtali he said, O Naphtali, satisfied with good will, and full of the blessing of Jehovah, possess thou the west and the south. And of Asher he said, Asher, blessed among sons, let him be acceptable to his brethren, and dip his foot in oil: thy shoes iron and copper; and thy strength as thy days." Will it be seriously pretended that all this was put forth as a prophecy after the most sweeping storm had fallen on all these tribes, and the last blows were about to fall on Judah and Benjamin? The credulity of infidels is proverbial, and can alone account for such senseless theories, even if one lays aside for a moment their one point in common opposition to the revealed truth of God.
Nothing can exceed the grandeur of the closing words of Moses; and they will assuredly be fulfilled in the future brightness and glory of restored Israel. He has dealt with His people according to the fiery law in His right hand; but He has not exhausted the resources of His tender mercy; nay, the best wine is kept to the last, to be brought in by Him whom they knew not in His humiliation but will own to theirs, yet in the end with exceeding joy when He returns in glory to change the water of purifying after their manner into that which gladdens the heart of God and man. "There is none like the God of Jeshurun, riding the heavens for thy help, and for his excellency the Skies. The God of ages is a refuge, and underneath the everlasting arms; and he shall drive away the enemy from thy presence, and say, Destroy. Israel dwelleth in safety, the fountain. of Jacob on a land of corn and new wine; his heavens also drop down dew. Happy thou, O Israel: who is like thee, O people saved by Jehovah, the shield of thy help, and who is the sword of thy excellency! And thy enemies shall lie to thee; and thou shalt tread on the* high places."
*Literally "the eye" of Jacob.
Moses (Deuteronomy 34:1-12) goes up to the top of Pisgah, and there Jehovah points out to him the land in detail. It was impossible that the fault of Moses could be slighted without weakening the authority of law. There was surely righteousness in the ways of God; but this did not in the smallest degree hinder the perfectness of His love to Moses. It was part of His government to chasten his fault: His grace to Moses remained entire. Had it been possible, consistently with the ways of God (which it was not), that Moses should have entered the land, what grief to Moses to have beheld the unfaithfulness of His people, their slighting of His law, their imperfect conquest of the enemy, their readiness to turn back to iniquity and idolatry even in that land! Can this be compared with the blessedness of looking down on it from beside Jehovah not seeing it in the hands of man, imperfectly rescued from the Canaanites, but God Himself calling it already the land of this tribe and of that, and thus giving His servant's heart to look to the time when no Canaanite should be in the land?
Faith has always the best portion.